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CBCP PASTORAL LETTER ON HUMAN TRAFFICKING

 

“For through faith, you are children of God in Christ Jesus… There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is not male nor female for you are all one in Christ.” (Gal. 3:26, 28)

CBCP PASTORAL LETTER ON HUMAN TRAFFICKING

God created man in His own image and redeemed him from sin through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sacred and inviolate, therefore, is his human dignity. Yet, time and again, this dignity has been violated in unspeakable ways. Human trafficking is one such violation that directly assaults such dignity.

What is human trafficking?

It is a form of modern-day slavery, not less dehumanizing and cruel than any old form of slavery.  It is the illegal trade in persons, inhuman organs, in human values, as though these were commercial commodities. Through the use of force, deception, violence, and taking advantage of the vulnerability of victims, men and women are exploited physically, sexually, psychologically, morally, spiritually for the material gain of the traffickers.  The victims are our brothers and sisters whom we know and do not know.

In today’s “globalized” and “consumeristic” world, the most vulnerable among us are sold as slaves, prostitutes, organ-donors, and pawns in criminal enterprise, armed activities and conflicts. The Holy Father describes human trafficking as an “open wound on the body of contemporary society,” a “scourge upon the body of Christ,” a “crime against humanity,” and a “grave violation of fundamental human rights.”

“It is a disgrace,” says Pope Francis that people are treated as “objects, deceived,  raped, often sold many times for different purposes and, in the end, killed or, in  any case, physically and mentally damaged, ending up thrown away and abandoned.” But it would be a more terrible disgrace if we who hear or read about the fate of victims could only think of ourselves lucky that we have been spared from such fate, but feel no compulsion to share or mitigate the suffering of the victims or wish to curb it.  A Christian should be willing to sleep on the floor if his brother has no  roof over his head, and forego his meal if his brother has nothing to eat.

Every year about 800,000 children, women and men are trafficked across international borders around the world. Some 30 million people are presently enslaved. About 150,000 of these are said to be Filipinos, most of them children who are physically exploited and sexually abused. Every year, many Filipino men and women who migrate abroad for work end up in conditions of involuntary servitude. Happily, this does not characterize the general condition of the Filipino diaspora, which now counts some ten million Filipinos in various parts of the world. But one Filipino victim of human trafficking alone is one victim too many for us as a Christian nation. We should have zero tolerance for this evil.

In the middle of their sufferings, the victims often find themselves alone and lost, with no one to turn to but their God, our Lord. There is no greater comfort than to seek solace from our Lord. Especially so when no human relief appears to be on sight.  But sometimes their sufferings are compounded by the negligence, indifference and downright abuse of those who are otherwise tasked to provide solace and help. The problem has reached such proportions that in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis could not help but lament:

How I wish that all of us would hear God’s cry: “Where is your brother?” (Gen. 4:9). Where is your brother or sister who is enslaved? Where is the brother and sister whom you are killing each day in clandestine warehouses, in rings of prostitution, in children used for begging, in exploiting undocumented labor? Let us not look the other way. There is greater complicity than we think. The issue involves everyone! This infamous network of crime is now well established in our cities, and many people have blood on their hands as a result of their comfortable and silent complicity. (EG, 211).

Seeing how this evil has spread and threatens to scatter the flock, we can only cry with the Good Shepherd, “This cannot go on! It must stop!”

As in the times of old, God wishes us all to be free. Even now, God speaks to us as He did to those who suffered under the lash in Egypt: “I saw the affliction of my people and have heard their cries; set my people free!” (Ex 3:7-8).

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Our Lord came down to die on the Cross in order to set His people free. Free from the bondage of sin, but free also from the evil one that preys upon every human weakness, every vulnerability of the individual and society. “We have been bought at a great price” (cf. 1 Cor 6:20), Scripture reminds us, and we cannot allow anyone to enslave another whom our Lord, by his death and resurrection, has set free.

It is, therefore, our Christian duty to do everything we can to prevent anyone in our midst from being trafficked, and to make sure that those who have fallen into the traffickers’ trap are set free and are able to come home and resume their normal lives with their families, friends and community.  As serious a duty this is of individual Christians, even more serious is it the duty of the State and society.  Beyond that, charity and compassion demand that Christians exert every effort to free human traffickers from the motives and attractions of their illicit trade and to draw them back to genuinely good and beneficial pursuits.  To drown evil in an abundance of good, and convert the wrongdoer into a source of good is the ultimate triumph we should aim for in this fight.

The worship of creatures and the idolatry of money are the first obstacles the society and the individual must deal with.  So long as there are huge profits to be made from human trafficking, this transnational crime will continue to defy national and international laws, and religious and moral strictures and norms. The evil is so pervasive and the perpetrators are so determined that utmost cooperation is needed between Church and State, between the citizens and the instrumentalities of government, to make sure that the will and the forces needed to combat it should never be less strong than those committed to promoting it.

There is no substitute for turning to the Gospel as we respond to this scourge. So let us do it.  In this Year of the Laity when we commit ourselves anew to the spirit of evangelization of every heart and home, we must never for a moment forget that we are each our brother’s keepers, and that a part of ourselves is trafficked every time a brother or sister of ours is. But not only should we see ourselves in the face of every victim, we must above all see our Lord in every victim’s face.  And because we cannot allow to see our Lord trafficked, neither can we allow the least of our brethren to be so exploited.  For our Lord has said, “whatever you did to disorders, but it is reversed when  the least of my brethren, you did unto me” (cf Mt 25:40).

Reposing our hopes and our trust anew in our Blessed Mother, Comforter of the Afflicted and Help of Christians, and invoking the intercession of  St. Josephine Bakhita, the patron saint of the victims of human trafficking, we pray that our nation, by which we mean everyone of its citizens, find the grace and the courage to lead in this fight against human trafficking until it is extinguished from our daily lives.  We call upon all the faithful to join hands in every possible endeavor at every level of society, from local to national to international, in the pursuit of this objective.

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, December 14, 2014

+ SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS, D.D.

Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan
CBCP President

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